The FBI wants the ability to surreptitiously turn your smartphone into a video- and audio-recording device without your knowledge, and it is calling on the high-tech industry to supply it with an app to perform those surveillance functions.
According to a planning document that WND obtained via routine database research, the app would enable the FBI to capture sounds and images near a targeted phone, and not simply intercept communications taking place through the phone.
The contents of the draft Request for Information, or RFI, document, “Smartphone-based Audio Recorder Technical Requirements,” reveal more than the title suggests about this desired capability.
Although the FBI, on the one hand, also wants to give agents the ability to use their own phones to overtly record field interviews, upon closer inspection the document reveals a desire to remotely tap into another person’s phones via “stealth mode.”
“In this mode, the room audio will be streamed to another device for live/post monitoring,” the draft RFI, Solicitation No. DJF-16-1200-N-0007, says. “The basic capability will be audio, but GPS location information is also desired and eventually video capability.”
The FBI wants to insert the app “without having to ‘jailbreak’ the phone,” as the draft document describes it. Likewise, targeted phones having Android, iOS, or Windows systems will continue to function normally after the app is loaded.
“Thus, the app turns the phone into a covert recorder to surreptitiously capture audio and video while also allowing live monitoring.”
It remains unclear how the FBI would preload the app onto phones, but once a device is loaded and “the app is running, a person controlling the scenario will be able to remotely enable recording, effectively turning the phone into a local microphone/recorder.”
An interview request for clarification on this and other points was sent via e-mail to the procurement officer handling this endeavor, which the FBI Engineering Research Facility in Quantico, Virginia, is coordinating. There was no response.
The FBI seeks the ability to simultaneously store the recording on a phone while automatically sending live audio and data through a targeted user’s cellular network to a government-owned server in Quantico, according to the draft RFI.
The document acknowledged the need for FBI surveillance operators to follow certain evidence-collection procedures, insofar as it may apply to “any electronic data intended to be admitted in court as evidence.”
In situations where investigators intend to provide testimony based on this surveillance, the app must offer technical safeguards to prevent evidence tampering. The app therefore must be designed to protect stored evidence and – when necessary – enable the FBI to present the court with a traceable “chain of custody.”
Similarly, in order to comply with any court-ordered surveillance restrictions, the app will be designed in a way that enables the FBI to switch the voice-, data-, and location-interception and storage functions on and off.
“Any listener shall only have the capability of monitoring the audio and/or GPS transmission when enabled,” according to the draft RFI. “The controller shall have the ability to set the phone to send audio, video, and/or GPS data without storing it on the phone or server.”
The selected vendor that ends up providing such covert-surveillance abilities must ensure the app does not contain an editing function. All recordings therefore must be time and date stamped to preserve the chain of evidence.
The vendor, when called upon by a court, occasionally will supply personnel who can attest to these technical capabilities and limitations. The FBI offered assurances that it will fight to limit – if not prevent – the disclosure of vendor-proprietary information, which will only be revealed on a “need to know” basis.
“In fact, the government works diligently to limit and control who has access to these details as they could be used against us,” the document says.
Since the document is an RFI – rather than a Request for Proposals – the government is not yet taking bids from industry. Nor is it obligated to award contracts under this tentatively planned program, the FBI pointed out in an accompanying disclaimer.
That same disclaimer, however, acknowledged that the FBI’s purchase of the smartphone surveillance app “is estimated to start the fourth quarter of 2017.”
Tracking FBI ‘partnerships’
The creation of a modern digital system that the FBI can use to track and manage interactions with its “partners” – whether individual citizens, companies and other government employees – soon will take a step closer to reality.
The FBI this past week separately issued a revised date to release a formal solicitation governing its “Customer Relationship Management,” or CRM, initiative, which likely will be distributed Aug. 15.
The CRM will enhance the ability of FBI headquarters and field offices to develop beneficial relationships with “external partners.” According to a draft RFQ, or Request for Quotations, those partners include “lawmakers, the media, law enforcement, other government agencies, the private sector, and the public.”
“As the FBI’s reliance on partnerships steadily increases, so does the number of individual partner-related details for which the bureau must account,” the draft RFQ says. “For the private sector alone, this number exceeds 45,000, many of which are frequent and trusted contributors to the FBI’s activities.”
The new CRM system will serve to reduce bureaucratic inefficiency, notably by increasing threat-information sharing and by streamlining administrative requirements for agents to track “liaison activities.”
It also will help the FBI to track people deemed as uncooperative in pursuing agency goals, the document suggests.
Rather than looking at such interactions individually, the new system will enable agents “to generate reports and explore data on partner engagement.”
This will enable the FBI to analyze these relationships in the context of “a series of linked, productive meetings to further mutual goals.”
Long-term records will help to guide agents in pursuing – or severing – partnerships, “giving the FBI a more detailed understanding where the relationship stands and future cooperation opportunities, or reallocating efforts to a more willing partner,” it says.